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Glasgow striking cleansing workers on the Fridays For Future climate strike, 5 November 2021

Glasgow striking cleansing workers on the Fridays For Future climate strike, 5 November 2021. Photo: GMB Scotland

Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles

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The GMB Cleansing Workers strike has been solid. Just over 970 GMB members of Glasgow City Cleansing started strike action at one minute past midnight on 1 November. 

While Unite and Unison members in these depots have refused to cross the picket lines, this strike would have been even more solid if they had taken joint action like was planned for non-teaching staff in schools across Scotland from 8 November. That dispute is currently off.

One of the joint demands between the cleansing workers and Living Rent is we reduce outsourced work and agency workers. The council have hired contractors to clear bins. Claiming it is for bonfire night and to reduce fire risk. Considering some of the ridiculous security measures Glaswegians have endured for the COP26, the cancellation of bonfires and fireworks seems a sensible measure. Susan Aitken and the SNP have crossed a line by using scab labour.

This also seems an odd decision by the Council Leader. In her infamous STV news interview, she claimed the "city needed to be spruced up" in time for COP26 and denied a cleansing crisis. Why would you then entrust private contractors under the disguise of fire safety to clear bins?

"The cleansing’s on fire" is heard sung at every picket line to the rave classic "Freed from desire". In preparation for their coming together with Greta Thunberg in George Square on Friday 5 November, Primal Scream sent a message of solidarity on Twitter.

Meanwhile elsewhere in the city, First Bus Workers are voting for action. The RMT Caledonian Sleeper strike against Serco also started on Monday; and Dundee University pension dispute entered its second week.

UCU prepare picket lines to protect pensions

UCU workers at 37 universities across the country have voted for strike action over pensions. 76% of UCU members who voted, voted to strike, with 35 branches reaching the turnout threshold. 88% voted for action short of strike and 68 universities were balloted. The overall turnout was 53%.

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions are threatened with cuts which would reduce the average workers retirement income by a huge 35%.

Workers could be on the picket lines before the end of the year and well into the new year. UCU says next steps will be discussed on 12 November when the higher education committee meets.

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UCU Strike Rally, Buchanan Street, Glasgow, December 2019. Photo: LornaMCampbell / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Svitzer Marine vs Unite: transport militancy looks set to hit the shipping lanes 

Tugboat workers are holding a strike ballot over pay, which could see Teesport – the UK’s fifth largest port located in North Yorkshire brought to a standstill before Christmas.

Svitzer Marine are the employers the Unite members are taking on. The ballot opened last Friday (29 October) and closes on 12 November. The action is scheduled for early December.

A pugnacious Sharon Graham, the Unite General Secretary, says:

“Our members have kept vital goods flowing through this major ‘gateway’ port throughout the most difficult year in living memory and the ‘thanks’ they get is a pay freeze.

“Maersk the shipping giant, which owns Svitzer Marine, is on course to make record profits touching £12 billion. There is no justification whatsoever for a pay freeze. Unite will fight that.” 

Let’s be clear: anything less than 5 per cent in the current period is a pay cut and a tugboat blockade would set us all up for the festive season. 

All-out this Saturday: Notts GMB tram drivers kick off their action 

Nottingham Express Transit tram drivers have voted overwhelmingly for a 24-hour strike this Saturday, 6 November. The strike extends to all lines and depots.

The workers have got downwind of the fact that similar staff eighty miles away in Manchester take home up to £10k more.

GMB’s Finbar Bowie says:

“This strike and disruption to service was totally avoidable, had NTL management brought an offer to the table that respected these key workers and kept up with pay on similar services, such as Manchester’s tram network. That just hasn’t happened.

“Public support from Nottingham residents has been overwhelming and we would like to put on record out thanks to them on behalf of our members.”

These workers are angry and serious, and this is reflected in the swift turnaround of the vote and the opening salvo. 

This is our kind of ‘levelling up’ and we don’t look to Tories to deliver it.

Double trouble for Weetabix: strikers determined to stop fire-and-rehire

Engineers working at Weetabix who have been on strike every Tuesday and Wednesday since September will double their strike days from next week. The workers are clear that they will not back down against the breakfast cereal company’s despicable plan to fire and rehire its workforce, which will see cuts to their pay, terms and conditions.

The strike has already caused serious disruption for Weetabix, which has had to close production lines. The escalated strike action which will see workers walking out from Monday to Thursday every week will exacerbate the disruption for the bosses.

Unite organiser Willie Howard said:

“Weetabix are an immensely profitable company that saw their profits rise sharply throughout the pandemic. They are in turn owned by an American conglomerate, Post Holdings which is also posting record profits, much of which is decanted into a company registered in the Cayman Islands.

“Fire-and-rehire is an attack on workers motivated by opportunistic greed; money is being sucked out of working-class communities in Northamptonshire and being funnelled into the hands of multinational oligarchs. It is a disgrace and the workers are prepared to fight it every step of the way.”

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Photo: @StopWeetabix

Alpla bottles it: pay win in Wigan

Unite members at Alpla UK, a plastic bottle manufacturer in Wigan have won a hefty pay rise after strike action.

150 workers at the site will benefit from the deal with those earning less than £25k getting 4% backdated to January and those above £25k getting 3%. On top of that, they will all get another 3.25% in January.

The 90% vote in favour of action was enough to instil some reason in the bosses at the site and strike action was called off as the deal was accepted.

Unite regional officer Richard O’Brien said:

“This result shows what can be achieved through strong union organisation, which is why we urge workers looking to improve their pay and terms and conditions to join Unite and to get their colleagues to do the same.”

Sound advice for workers facing mounting bills under the current inflation rate.

Lorry drivers take a break

Following the #TakeaBreak action this week Monday, activists are meeting next Friday in Nottingham to decide on the next step in the campaign for decent pay and conditions in road haulage.

Whilst the response was patchy, what was clear is that where the groundwork was done, the response from drivers was good. A Belfast depot reported that 100% of the driver workforce stopped at 11am, and in the warehouse, every fork truck sounded its horn at the same time to show support.

The Sheffield Star reported on the action, including an interview with the local Trades Council, which made clear its support for the campaign.

The #TruckedOff Facebook group attracted 1,800 members in the two weeks running up to Monday and one urgent task will be to get direct contact with those 1,800 drivers – many of whom have never been actively involved in collective action before, and some of whom may not even be in a trade union. Each one is a potential activist and campaigner, and is a resource we cannot afford to ignore. 

Doosan Babcock engineers strike for pay

Dozens of workers represented by the GMB union at multinational engineering and construction firm Doosan Babcock in Tipton walked out for a two-day strike on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

The workers voted unanimously for the strike in response to pay cuts and wage arrears, and appear prepared to take further action if the employers don’t reverse the cuts.

“Stop treating us like rubbish”: Sandwell strikers stand up to Serco

Refuse workers in Sandwell are set to take twelve days of strike action between mid-November and January including four consecutive days around Christmas over safety, pay and bullying. Over a hundred GMB members will be walking off the job on 15, 16, 24 and 25 of November, 20-23 December and 4-7 January.

A GMB spokesperson said,

“[Our members] have had enough of being treated like rubbish by their employer - being treated with disdain, being sent out to do jobs with hazardous materials and not being given PPE.

“We will not back down from this fight. We will not back down to bullies, and neither will our members.”

NHS facilities workers at four Berkshire hospitals set to strike

Cleaners, porters, caterers and other facilities staff at four Berkshire hospitals are set to begin strike action in response to “forced changes” to their contracts since being moved to the government’s private services provider, NHS Property Services Ltd.

GMB union says the changes to job roles and pay are being made as part of NHSPS’s ‘organisational review’ for ‘required efficiencies and cost savings’ which will be detrimental to their members working at the King Edward VII, Wokingham, St Marks and Upton Hospitals.

The union will announce strike dates soon if NHSPS doesn’t provide cast iron guarantees that no detrimental changes will be made.

GOSH security guards: 100% yes vote to strike

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) UVW security guards have voted to strike with a 100% yes vote. This follows cleaning and domestic workers at the hospital striking and winning to be bought in house, striking a second time to get parity with NHS staff and then securing a huge victory.

The GOSH security guards are fighting for an end to outsourcing and full NHS pay and term and conditions. Workers say that since working through the pandemic more responsibilities have been added to their role and their hours have increased.

UVW say they have attempted to talk to the GOSH trustees and the hospital has been unwilling to talk. The majority of the workforce is from migrant backgrounds. Samuel Awittor who has been working as security at the hospital for seven years said:

“We are requesting a legal strike because we feel that we have not been treated fairly and we’ve been discriminated against.”

Royal College of Burnout on third week of strike action

UCU Royal College of Art workers held their third week of strike action and further dates are planned for the 15-19 November. They are demanding an end to casualisation and an end to unsafe workloads, 90% of RCA workers are on casual contracts. You can sign this letter in support of striking staff here and donate to the strike fund here.

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Photo: Cici Wahsburn

Pay, terms and conditions boost for Scottish painters

Unite Scotland says apprentice painters and decorators in Scotland will receive an increase in pay of up to 8.5% in an agreement with Unite, the Scottish Decorators Federation and the apprenticeship body.

Under this agreement rates will rise by 2% on 1 November and a further 2% in March 2022. Negotiations with the Scottish Painting and Decorating Apprenticeship council mean hourly pay rates will increase by 5% for apprentices in the first year, 8.5% in the second year, 3.9% in the third year and 5% for their fourth year.

Apprentice workers will also get increased sick leave, annual leave and bereavement leave. Unite says over 800 apprentices will benefit from these agreements.

Stagecoach’s problems are just beginning

The discontent among professional drivers that is one of the root causes of the current shortage of lorry drivers is raising its head among bus drivers too. The deregulation of public bus companies that led to the scamper for privatised public transport contracts also led to the ‘race to the bottom’ as the new operators sought to maximise their profits at the expense of the workforce. The chickens are now coming home to roost.

Stagecoach in Scotland and Newcastle finally crumbled in the last week, offering deals to avoid strike action (Newcastle is not yet confirmed – because the rep was refusing to go in on his rest day to formally receive management’s offer).

The action is now moving to Kent and South Wales. The three Stagecoach garages in South Wales (Blackwood, Brymawr, and Cwmbran) are due to take all-out strike action from 17 November and the 250 drivers at the Herne Bay, Folkestone and Hastings garages are taking discontinuous strike action at the same time. Hard on the heels of Stagecoach’s problems comes news that the 900 Unite members driving buses for First Group in Leeds are balloting for strike action over an insulting 1% pay offer.

The joke doing the rounds in Stagecoach at the moment is “Stagecoach thinks they’ve settled the pay disputes, but there’ll be another one along in a minute.”

Industrial action scares Serco away

Barts hospital: Serco tells Barts it is not looking to renew its ‘Soft Services’ contract with the NHS Trust as hundreds of Unite ancillary staff start balloting on industrial action over pay and conditions. This follows Serco losing the local authority contract for refuse collection following strike action at Bexley council this summer.

Lorry drivers now know they can win

3,500 drivers and warehouse workers at Tesco distribution centres are balloting for strike action over pay. Workers at the 4 Regional Distribution Centres (RDCs) in Belfast, Didcot, Doncaster and Thurrock are angry at being offered a below-inflation increase, when the company made £3.2bn profit last year and saw its profits jump by a further 16% in the first half of this year.

Worse still for Tesco is that Unite members at the Livingston RDC in Scotland, where Tesco thought they had got a sweetheart deal with Usdaw, are also insisting on their right to ballot.

Andy (last name withheld to avoid further management targeting), a driver at Livingstone, told NFTF:

“Tesco thinks it’s acceptable to offer a 37p an hour raise and 3.3% over two years and expect us to swallow it. We have got a branch meeting this Sunday and we’ve already got 180 members committing to attend.”

He intends to make sure that everybody knows the deal Bookers cut with their drivers in the south east: a pay deal worth 18.7 – 24% (depending on shift pattern), with a further review in April.  Bookers is owned by Tesco and Andy’s clear message is:

“Booker drivers returned a solid 100% vote for strike action on a 83% turnout. Their collective stand got them the sort of result we want to see here. We need to take heed of the lesson there.”

The bad news for Tesco is that they thought they had isolated Livingstone from the rest of the RDCs. Not if Andy has his way.

Cancel the cuts say Clarks strikers

Community Union members at Clarks Distribution Centre in Street, Somerset, are in their fifth week of strike action over the fire-and-rehire tactics deployed by the new owners, Hong Kong based LionRock Capital.

The new contract terms presented to warehouse staff include a reduction in pay from £11.16 to £9.50 per hour, amounting to more than 3k a year, an end to paid thirty-minute meal breaks and daily ten-minute tea breaks (spent queuing at the vending machine; kettles are barred), as well as cuts to sick pay and redundancy entitlements.

Read Sean Coote’s full report from the picket line here.

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Photo: Sean Coote

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